When I was a teenager, I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about the Bible. I’d grown up in the church my whole life, attending services 3-4 times a week. I could answer any Sunday School question, and I was a formidable opponent in Bible drill games. I didn’t realize until I was older that the Bible is actually an inexhaustible treasure trove of wisdom and truth, with relevant applications to every stage of life. And sometimes, a verse that I have read dozens or even hundreds of times suddenly strikes me in a way that I have never considered.
This recently happened with Romans 8:18. Romans is my favorite book of the Bible, and chapter 8 is probably my favorite chapter of the book. I even memorized Romans 6-8 several summers ago, so I recited Romans 8:18 many times as I worked on memorizing that chapter.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Every time I read this verse, I would think something along the lines of, “Well that’s neat. Sounds like heaven is going to be pretty awesome.” And then I moved on without another thought. But recently I was listening to a sermon by Mike Winger (whom I highly recommend), and he pointed out the significance of this verse.
What kinds of suffering was the Apostle Paul talking about when he wrote this? Well, Paul was no stranger to suffering. In 2 Corinthians 11 there is a section entitled “Paul’s Sufferings as an Apostle” in the ESV Bible. He was imprisoned many times, with countless beatings of various kinds, and often near death. Once he was stoned. He was shipwrecked three times, and spent an entire day and night adrift at sea. He went on many dangerous journeys, threatened by robbers, fellow Jews, Gentiles, and false teachers. He endured many sleepless nights, had no food or water, was exposed to the cold, and on top of all that, had the constant pressure of anxiety for the churches that he was ministering to.
I think the reason why I never really took this verse seriously is because I have never suffered to that extent, or anywhere near it. Most of my “sufferings” have been almost laughably trivial compared to what Paul went through. Maybe you can relate. But Paul is not the only one who has suffered deeply. What other kinds of suffering do people endure in this world? I’m talking about the worst pain, both physical and emotional, that we can imagine.
The death of a child or loved one. Disabilities. Chronic disease. Cancer. Bombings. 9/11. Wars. Starvation. Torture. Sex trafficking. Slavery. Persecution. Rape. Divorce. Abuse. Betrayal. The list could go on and on.
This world is full of SERIOUS suffering. Paul experienced much of it. And he wrote, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (who knew all the suffering all of humanity would ever endure), that it doesn’t even compare to the future glory we will know in eternity with Christ.
Think about that. Think about how incredibly, unfathomably glorious heaven must be if the horrendous pain and suffering of this world doesn’t even compare. No one will ever be sitting in heaven, thinking, “Man, this isn’t as great as I thought it would be. All those trials I went through on earth were really awful, and I tried to glorify God in the midst of them, but I’m just not sure it was worth it.” On the contrary- it won’t even be a question in your mind that the suffering WAS worth it. The glory of heaven will be so mind-blowing that it will far outweigh anything you may have experienced on earth- even the worst thing you can think of.
In 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, Paul writes something very similar:
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Paul describes our current suffering as light and momentary. It doesn’t always feel light, does it? And it doesn’t feel momentary either. It feels like an unbearably heavy weight that will never end. Indeed, some suffering doesn’t end until death. But in comparison to eternity, our earthly lives are barely even a blip on the radar. In comparison to eternity, our suffering is truly brief. And the heavy weight of hardship is light compared to the weight of glory that is eternal.
Even more than that, these afflictions are preparing us for glory. This means that our suffering has purpose and we will be rewarded for suffering well. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, Paul says that our afflictions give us opportunities to receive comfort from God, and as a result of these experiences, we will know how to comfort others who are also experiencing affliction. And he doesn’t hide the reality of suffering. At times, Paul and the others working with him “were so utterly burdened beyond [their] strength that [they] despaired of life itself.” They actually thought they might die (and maybe would have preferred death!) because of the intense suffering they were bearing. But, the purpose of such suffering was “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” God uses trials and hardships in our lives to show us that we are unable to adequately endure suffering on our own. We are prompted to call on Him for strength. It is in these times that His power is manifested most clearly in us, for His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
In Romans 8:35-39, Paul asks if tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword can separate us from the love of Christ. This list names some specifics, but is also general enough to encompass pretty much any hardship or suffering we can encounter in life. The answer? Not only can nothing in all of creation separate us from God’s love, but in all our sufferings, we are “more than conquerors.”
What does it mean to be more than conquerors? It means that we can be victorious over suffering, sin, and Satan, and that one day we will be rewarded for standing firm. Here on Earth, we are never alone. God fights for us and with us. Trials of many kinds do not defeat us; they actually have a positive effect on the believer. We get to experience God’s strength, power, and miraculous provision. We get to draw closer to Him as we confess our own weaknesses and inability to deal with situations on our own. His love and presence will sustain us through anything we could possibly undergo. We are no longer slaves to sin, discouragement, or hopelessness, but are instead free to live righteously in relationship with God through faith in Christ, our Living Hope. And because of that faith, at His second coming we will experience ultimate victory as Satan, sin, and death are vanquished forever. We don’t just barely conquer sin and suffering- we overwhelmingly conquer by the infinite grace and power of God, and come out better for it on the other side.
It’s easy to focus on our current trials and pain because we can see and feel them. We can’t see or feel the glory of heaven. In fact, we can become so wrapped up in our suffering that we completely lose sight of this amazing promise from God’s Word that is meant to give us comfort and hope. We have something so much better to look forward to. When the hardships of this life are weighing heavily on your shoulders, remember- they have nothing on the weight of glory that will someday be yours for eternity.